Archive for the 'WWII' Tag
Battleships ceded their primacy to aircraft in WWII, but they still played an important role. Today’s object comes from one of the more unusual ship to ship engagements during the war, that between the USS Massachusetts (BB-59) and the French battleship Jean Bart, in Casablanca as part of Operation Torch.
As WWII raged, supply convoys from the United States and Canada faced off with the German U-boat “wolfpacks” throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Although the Wolfpacks nearly crippled the allied war effort early in 1941 and 1942, eventually the Allies were able to turn the tide, culminating in the devastation inflicted inflicted on the German submarine squadrons in 1943. May 1943 became known to the Germans as “Black May.” Today’s object was captured from a German submarine by American sailors one year later in a daring boarding of a sinking u-boat.
The development of wireless communication in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was quickly followed by the development of encrytpion for coded transmissions. The ability of the US to decipher these coded transmissions played an essential role in helping the US and her allies to victory in World War II. Today, we discuss an iconic World War II enryption tool, the German Enigma Machine.
With the battle fleet damaged at Pearl Harbor, carrier-based aircraft became the US Pacific Fleet’s main weapon. A small group of veteran naval aviation pioneers led the US carriers against the Japanese Imperial Navy, including Admiral Marc Mitscher, to whom our object today belonged.
The tension created by prolonged naval build-ups during the first part of the 20th century finally ignited into all-out naval conflict in the Pacific in 1941. The Japanese struck first at Pearl Harbor, with their carrier-based aircraft heavily damaging the anchored US battleships of the Pacific Fleet, and thus bringing the aircraft carrier to the front lines of the conflict.
From the 1890s until World War II, the Navy witnessed tremendous technological development. Wooden ships ceased to exist. The airplane was invented and became mainstream, and submarines entered broad use world-wide. During this same period and with the same rapidity, the Navy (and the rest of the world’s navies like Japan) adopted wireless communication, completely changing the way navies fought battles and coordinated movements. Wireless technology directly impacted the course of all future conflicts, particularly WWII, with interceptions of German and Japanese communications leading to key Allied victories. To this day, wireless communication technology continues to develop and change at incredible speed.
If you look to the performance of the US Navy in World War II – the ships that made victory happen came out of the shipbuilding programs of the 1920s and 1930s. At a time with no computers or modern communication equipment – and working through naval treaty limitations as well as the financial challenges of the Great Depression – we saw incredible innovation and steadily improving ship designs. Why?
A lot of the credit is given to something the Navy had then, but does not have now; The General Board.
What was The General Board, what did it do, and is the Navy today suffering for the lack of one?
Join fellow USNI Bloggers CDR Salamander and EagleOne this Sunday, 10 JUL at 5-6pm EST to discuss the issue and more for the full hour with CDR John T. Kuehn, USN (Ret.), PhD – author of the USNI Press book, Agents of Innovation, and and earlier Sterling book Eyewitness Pacific Theater with Dennis Giangreco.
A couple of days ago on Midrats, fellow USNIBlog’r EagleOne and I had on two of the honorees as guests; Eddie LaBaron and Lanier Phillips.
Though known as four-time Pro-Bowler, quarterback for the Washington Redskins in the 1950s, Tom Landry’s first quarterback in Dallas, and Don Meredith’s mentor; he was also a USMC Lieutenant in the Korean Conflict; decorated with the Purple Heart and awarded the Bronze Star.
We spent the first half hour of the show discussing the Korean War, Marines, and professional football – along the way weaving in some well grounded ideas on the nature of leadership.
Our guest for the second half of the hour, Lanier Phillips, was a trailblazer for all Sailors. In October of 1941, at the age of eighteen, Lanier joined the Navy. He was a survivor of the February of 1942 sinking of the USS TRUXTUN (DD-229). He was not just any Sailor though, he later took a step with confidence like he did during the shipwreck that put him in an raft – he asked to be treated as an equal and was the first black Navy sailor to become a sonar technician.
An impressive man and Sailor – we had a chance to talk about everything from life on a WWII era destroyer, the arch of how our Navy has dealt with race over the last 70 years – challenges that still exist, and some bright thoughts for the future.
Can you lose but win?
Of course you can. The key is to understand that the Tactical, Operational, and Strategic are linked – but they are not perfectly linked.
Let’s look at the Tactical.
In the battle, a US warship force of five cruisers and four destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Carleton H. Wright attempted to surprise and destroy a Japanese warship force of eight destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka. Tanaka’s warships were attempting to deliver food supplies to Japanese forces on Guadalcanal.
Using radar, the US warships opened fire and sank one of the Japanese destroyers. Tanaka and the rest of his ships, however, reacted quickly and launched numerous torpedoes at the US warships. The Japanese torpedoes hit and sank one US cruiser and heavily damaged three others, enabling the rest of Tanaka’s force to escape without significant additional damage but also without completing the mission of delivering the food supplies.
All you need to know about Operational and Strategic is right there, but let’s stick with the Tactical for a bit.
Do Commanders feel today that they are too limited in their ability to exercise their best judgement in combat? Well, consider it a Navy tradition.
At 23:14, operators on Fletcher established firm radar contact with Takanami and the lead group of four drum-carrying destroyers. At 23:15, with the range 7,000 yards (6,400 m), Commander William M. Cole, commander of Wright’s destroyer group and captain of Fletcher, radioed Wright for permission to fire torpedoes. Wright waited two minutes and then responded with, “Range on bogies [Tanaka’s ships on radar] excessive at present.” Cole responded that the range was fine. Another two minutes passed before Wright responded with permission to fire. In the meantime, the US destroyer’s targets escaped from an optimum firing setup ahead to a marginal position passing abeam, giving the American torpedoes a long overtaking run near the limit of their range. At 23:20, Fletcher, Perkins, and Drayton fired a total of 20 Mark 15 torpedoes towards Tanaka’s ships. Maury, lacking SG radar and thus having no contacts, withheld fire.
Amazing even in hindsight. Recall – the action from initial radar contact by FLETCHER at 2306 Tanaka’s withdraw at 23:44 was only 38 minutes …. roughly 13% of the battle was spent waiting to be micromanaged. Recall that the Japanese did not have radar.
There is a point here that one should keep in mind. As opposed to the leisurely combat the USN has engaged in since WWII – mostly keeping station, supporting TACAIR operations or leisurely TLAM missions – this was as it is – quick, deadly, and devastating combat. Luck, speed, training, and finally your weapons determines success.
Knowing your enemy, and acknowledging that you may not fully know him, is also critical.
The results of the battle led to further discussion in the US Pacific Fleet about changes in tactical doctrine and the need for technical improvements, such as flashless gunpowder and improved torpedoes. The Americans were still unaware of the range and power of Japanese torpedoes and the effectiveness of Japanese night battle tactics. In fact, Wright claimed that his ships must have been fired on by submarines since the observed position of Tanaka’s ships “make it improbable that torpedoes with speed-distance characteristics similar to our own” could have caused such damage. The Americans would not recognize the true capabilities of their Pacific adversary’s torpedoes and night tactics until well into 1943.
Now, the god of Operational and Strategic: Logistics.
Due to a combination of the threat from CAF aircraft, US Navy PT boats stationed at Tulagi, and a cycle of bright moonlight, the Japanese had switched to using submarines to deliver provisions to their forces on Guadalcanal. Beginning on November 16, 1942, and continuing for the next three weeks, 16 submarines made nocturnal deliveries of foodstuffs to the island, with one submarine making the trip each night. Each submarine could deliver 20 to 30 tons of supplies, about one day’s worth of food, for the 17th Army, but the difficult task of transporting the supplies by hand through the jungle to the frontline units limited their value to sustain the Japanese troops on Guadalcanal. At the same time, the Japanese tried to establish a chain of three bases in the central Solomons to allow small boats to use them as staging sites for making supply deliveries to Guadalcanal, but damaging Allied airstrikes on the bases forced the abandonment of this plan.
On November 26, the 17th Army notified Imamura that it faced a critical food crisis. Some front-line units had not been resupplied for six days and even the rear-area troops were on one-third rations. The situation forced the Japanese to return to using destroyers to deliver the necessary supplies.
And that is where we get the success of the battle. If all you do is count ships sunk and damages, then sure The Battle of Tassafaronga was a loss for the USA. Cole and Wright sure saw it that way – as do many. But was it really?
What were the Japanese trying to do? What was their Operational Center of Gravity (CoG)?
Of course, it was keeping their land forces supplied ashore. By preventing their resupply, you attack and weaken the Japanese Operational CoG …. therefore, at the Operational (and arguably Strategic as well) you actually won.
Not too different from the American experience with Tet. The USA and South Vietnamese forces destroyed the Viet Cong during Tet – effectively removing them from being a threat to the existence of the South Vietnam government. That wasn’t the point …. as that wasn’t the war’s Strategic CoG from the Communist point of view.
Thanks to a superior INFO OPS and PSYOPS campaign by the North Vietnamese along with their allies – and useful assistance by the likes of Walter Cronkite – Tet was an exceptional victory by the Communists as it significantly undermined the Strategic CoG of the Americans; the support of the American people.
There are two examples of why one should be very careful when declaring a victory or defeat. Perspective and a clear understanding of the larger issue is key.
Finally, here is a nice lesson on how Senior Leadership should not act … and how it should. CYA, wagon circling, and blaming subordinates for your own failure is nothing new.
In spite of his defeat in the battle, Wright was awarded the Navy Cross, one of the highest American military decorations for bravery, for his actions during the engagement. … Halsey, in his comments on Wright’s report, placed much of the blame for the defeat on Cole, saying that the destroyer squadron commander fired his torpedoes from too great a distance to be effective and should have “helped” the cruisers instead of circling around Savo Island.
I think history has done some justice to Cole – and it sure doesn’t put a great deal of glory on Wright.
In contrast, look at what Tanaka said. This is a good way to end the post – Leadership 101.
After the war, Tanaka said of his victory at Tassafaronga, “I have heard that US naval experts praised my command in that action. I am not deserving of such honors. It was the superb proficiency and devotion of the men who served me that produced the tactical victory for us.”
That and some great Japanese engineering in the Long Lance.
- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC
- The Pen and the Sword: An Interview with Professor Timothy Demy on Reading Fiction and Studying War
- On Midrats 22 March 2015 – Episode 272: Naval Professionalism; up, down, and back again – with Will Beasley
- Missile Defense and Budget Issues
- On Midrats 3/15/15 – Episode 271: “Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter “